Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC review: minimalist boots get a high-performance makeover

The Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC are pared-back boots designed for extreme terrain. Here's our review

Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC boots in use
(Image credit: Vivobarefoot )
T3 Verdict

With the Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC, the brand has tried to create barefoot boots suitable for the most serious adventurers, and it sort-of succeeds. The grip and comfort are excellent, but there are still situations where a hardier boot, with a more stable sole and waterproofing built-in, would be our choice.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Very comfortable out of the box

  • +

    Excellent grip on tricky and slippery ground

  • +

    Freeing sensation

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Not totally waterproof

  • -

    Wide fit is a bit unwieldy

Launched May 2021, the Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC boot is the second product in the brand's 'Extreme Survival Collection', joining the Tempest swimrun shoe. Vivobarefoot has a very clearly defined USP. This eco-conscious brand makes minimalist footwear that removes the extra padding and chunky soles found in most of today's best hiking boots for men and women to create thin-soled, wide, and flexible footwear that helps you connect with the earth. 

While these kind of boots have their place, they're not especially well suited to extreme conditions, and can lack grip (as we noted in our Vivo Barefoot Tracker II hiking boot review). The Tracker Forest ESC aims to tackle that issue by packing in new features aimed at serious adventurers. Vivobarefoot says the Tracker Forest ESC is its most advanced hiking footwear yet – the design has been carefully developed over the past four years. They're available to buy now from Vivobarefoot in Mens or Womens versions for £190 / USD $220. 

So does this new design actually work for hardy adventurers? Read on for my full Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC boot review.

Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC boot review: design

The headline feature in the Tracker Forest ESC is the Michelin ESC Sole, which was developed in collaboration with the famous tyre company. Built from high-performance rubber, it features multi-directional, 'claw like' lugs for superior grip. While others in the Vivobarefoot range have curved, smooth edges that can be slippery, these sport a textured arch and edge traction to help you tackle trickier terrain. True to Vivobarefoot's brand DNA, there's still a thin and flexible sole, coupled with a wide toe box that gives your toes room to spread. 

Elsewhere, Vivobarefoot has kept things simple, as you'd expect. The upper is made from leather with a sandwich mesh lining. There's no Gore-Tex here – you're relying on the natural water resistance of the leather to keep your feet dry. An all-natural Renapur Leather Balsam comes included with the boots to keep the boots in good condition. However, that natural waterproofing will only get you so far. To that end, the mesh is designed to promote breathability and keep moisture away from your skin, encouraging the boots to dry out quickly.

Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC review

(Image credit: Future)

Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC boot review: performance

The Michelin Esc Sole does a great job of delivering grip on ascents, descents and on slippery terrain, with the aggressive VV shaped lugs performing reliably well in our tests. Vivobarefoot suggests you'll be able to wear these on tricky, technical trails, but we still wouldn't choose them for that – while the edge and arch texturing adds some welcome extra grip to the soles, the wider fit around the toes means these lack some precision.

This the first pair of barefoot style boots I've tried, and I found them much, much comfier than I'd expected. There's none of the bulk of traditional hiking boots, they're light and flexible, and comfy to wear straight out of the box. While the sole is thin and pleasantly flexible, it's not so thin as to be impractical – there's enough of a buffer there that you're well protected from rough ground (I suspect the Tracker Forest ESC has one of the chunkier soles in the Vivobarefoot range).

It's is worth noting, however, that this flexible sole also means you're relying on your own foot and calf muscles to keep your foot stable and supported, which gets tiring if you're taking on challenging terrain over longer distances.

Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC boots in use

(Image credit: Vivobarefoot )

Your feet are basically all on one level here, which is a bit of an odd sensation if you're used to footwear where the heel is raised. The other main difference compared to other boots I've tested is that the toe area is much wider. I've got naturally quite narrow feet (although not excessively so) and they did feel a bit 'flappy' at first. While aesthetically, these boots might not be for everyone, there's lots of room for your toes to spread out – I spoke to one fan who said their toes had actually changed shape as a result of wearing Vivobarefoot footwear regularly. 

While the leather will keep the water out in moderately damp conditions, it's not going to keep you dry in a downpour, or wading up a shallow stream, so again we'd perhaps not pick these if we were expecting torrential rain (it might be more 'natural', but damp feet are uncomfortable, whichever way you dress it up).

Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC boot review: price and verdict

With an RRP of £190 / USD $220, the Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest ESC boots are at the pricier end of the hiking boot market. Are they a good choice for hardcore hikes and tough terrain? Probably only if you're a dedicated disciple of the barefoot movement. The wider fit means they lack some precision, you might miss the support of a more solid sole when traversing uneven terrain for long periods, and there's no getting around the fact that leather is only so waterproof. 

That's not to say you should discount these boots completely – in fact, there's plenty to recommend them for mid-level adventures. They're extremely comfortable, and the flexible, pared-pack design feels much more freeing than traditional, bulky hiking boots. The sole provides enough a buffer that they're still suitable for wear on rough terrain, and the revamped sole provides reliably good grip on slippery and rocky ground. As a second pair of boots for all but the hardiest of adventures, we're sold.

Ruth Hamilton
Ruth Hamilton

Ruth runs T3's Outdoors editor (think camping, hiking and adventure sports) as well as running the site's Wellness channel (covering sleep, relaxation, yoga and general wellbeing). Due to some unfortunate timing, she joined the T3 team just as COVID-19 'joined' the UK, which means she hasn't managed to get to many industry events IRL yet – although she has enjoyed the resulting boom in popularity for outdoor activities. She has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle, and will talk at length about them to anyone who'll listen.